It’s only a little island, there are only a few highways, it won’t take long to find your way around, or so you would think.
That depends, of course, if you have a good sense of direction and you’re quick-witted enough to take that turn in 200 metres as instructed by the lady on your Google Map app … no, not that right, the one after … as you end up on a busy back street in Um Al’ Hassam, or worse still, on the edge of Manama souq.
I was lucky when I first arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2007 because there was a towering florescent light proudly sitting on top of the Gulf Hotel. If I could make my way from Hoora in the direction of Adliya and the shiny sign I could find my way home, otherwise I got lost.
It appeared that every sign – north, south, east and west – pointed either to the Bahrain International Circuit or Saudi Arabia and for many months I took the long way home to Saar, terrified of the driving habits of locals, crazed fellow expats and the weekend visitors.
The roundabouts were a fun experience too … Burgerland, in particular, was a case of a quick prayer and hoping you’d get in the right lane without a prang.
I used to marvel at the policemen who swung their arms magnificently conducting the traffic and introducing calm to the chaos … but now I’m getting nostalgic as the police are no longer needed, most of the roundabouts are now junctions with helpful blinking green lights indicating in advance when it’s time to stop.
By the time the sign from the Gulf Hotel came down after a major refurbishment I was fortunately more knowledgeable and starting to complain – even taking the direct route – about how far it was to Amwaj Islands or Sakhir in the other direction!
Shocking really, this was a man who used to be regularly stuck in a queue for two hours or more to travel15 miles from north to south of an English city and not think anything of it.
That’s progress and that’s one thing Bahrain can be proud of … this tiny country continues to invest in its infrastructure and, for someone who has only witnessed around a decade and a half of change, the roads network has improved immensely and still the investment continues apace.
It’s been a privilege to witness the changes and to play a part in reporting on and recording the country’s progress in print, online and on social media.
Thankfully, I’ve been able to draw on 40 years of journalistic experience to help me navigate a new environment and a country I now call home.
It’s been a place which my youngest children still consider as their favourite place of residence having ridden horses, played football, gone to school and lived a privileged life in a safe and secure environment.
I happily boast to my friends back in the UK that I could confidently walk with my family through any neighbourhood – city, town or village – at any time of day or night in the Kingdom of Bahrain in the full knowledge that not even the thought of danger would enter my head.
You couldn’t say the same about London, Bristol or Hull – cities I know extremely well - and having spoken to many American expatriate acquaintances, you’d need to book an appointment with a psychiatrist for even considering stepping into some districts in their home country.
No doubt I’ve ruffled a few feathers over the years, but then any journalist worth his salt is bound to do that at times, however, I like to think that the GDN has been able to be not only ‘the voice of Bahrain’ but its champion.
If it’s good for Bahrain, it’s good for the GDN and if it’s good for the GDN, it’s good for my team of journalists.
My working philosophy hasn’t changed from the first time I professionally picked up a pen on my first working day at the office of a small town newspaper as a raw, keen and eager trainee reporter in 1976.
It’s simple; always be willing to come face-to-face with the person you’ve written about the next day.
It made sense. If you upset someone not only would the complainant lambast your editor … he’d also call your mum!
That’s not what many scribes on national newspapers in the UK or other Western countries need to think about. They can publish and be damned and roll on to the next community to disrupt, cause havoc and leave a trail of tears.
Bahrain, although a thriving, dynamic country, also has a unique family-focussed small town feel it must, forever, embrace. It’s what makes it the number one destination for expatriate workers and keeps its young nationals fully focussed and determined to achieve great things in the future.
You may not know everyone you pass in a mall, coffee shop, hotel restaurant or office elevator but you’re sure to know someone, who knows someone, who does.
This came home to me recently when covering an incident on the runway of a Gulf Air flight to Kuwait. It made an emergency stop and its passengers had to evacuate the aircraft down the emergency slides.
There were only 62 passengers onboard but, of course, a friend of a friend, knew one of them. I called him at his hotel room and the 49-year-old banker was happy to talk about his experience to the GDN, because it was a newspaper he could trust and a newspaper that had been a part of his life since his childhood.
We’re going to meet face-to-face for a coffee shortly. That’s what you do in Bahrain.
Bahrainis have been warm and welcoming to the Szecowka family both personally and professionally.
The joys of working and living in this country are world-renowned. It’s a melting pot of cultures and people of all colours and creeds work together to make this country shine.
Fifty years of independence, 50 years of stunning developments and achievements as this book so clearly outlines.
What a keepsake and what a country.
Congratulations and thank you, Bahrain.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
Editor/Journalist & Blogger, Restaurant & Motors Reviewer, FinTech Writer, Manager, Trainer.
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